The overprediction of fear

Steven Taylor
Stimulus and response expectations play a central role in cognitive formulations of fear and avoidance. Research on this subject has been primarily concerned with the identification of various forms of expectations and their associated biases. Comparatively little is known about the cognitive structures or processes that produce biased expectations. The studies reported in this dissertation were intended to investigate the mechanisms of one bias of fear expectations, the overprediction of fear.
more » ... prediction of fear. This is a common phenomenon in which fearful people tend to overestimate the amount of fear that they will experience upon exposure to a threatening stimulus. Although overprediction is of interest in its own right, it is also important in that it promotes excessive avoidance behaviour, and so contributes to the maintenance of fear. A theoretical framework, called the stimulus estimation model, was proposed for conceptualizing the overprediction of fear. This model consists of an algebraic expression of the elements of overprediction and a set of candidate cognitive mechanisms that generate the algebraic relations. The essence of the algebraic expression is that the overprediction of fear arises from the overprediction of the threatening elements of the feared stimulus, and the underprediction of the elements that confer safety. One of the cognitive components of this model, the selective recall model, states that overprediction arises from the selective retrieval of memories of highly fearful reactions to aversive events. Another cognitive component, the differential-weighting model, proposes that overprediction arises because environmental information about sources of safety has a greater influence on reported fear than on predicted fear. The first experiment tested the selective recall model with a priming paradigm. One group of 50 spider-fearful subjects was required to recall highly fearful encounters with spiders (fear-relevant priming). A second group of 50 spider-fearful subjects was required to recall spider-irrel [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0101089 fatcat:w2tnphr35zdjtfc7uabj6hingi